WAR PONIES

Blue Feather Spirit has included beautiful artworks and a video to her informative essay on the Indian war ponies, the symbols warriors painted on them and their importance to the native tribes.

BlueFeatherSpirit

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The Indian war horse was highly regarded by its American Indian owner, who often honored and protected his war horse by painting tribal symbols upon the animal’s body.

While the symbols used and their meanings varied from tribe to tribe, there were some common symbols that were widely used on the Indian war horse.

Each power symbol has its own specific meaning and the purpose for which it was used was determined by the nature of the dangerous job which the war horse would be asked to do.

The Indian would decorate his horse with carefully chosen war symbols or power symbols which might be intended to give him protection, to indicate the troubles which lay ahead, or which spoke of the courageous heart of the war horse. Some symbols told of the horse’s affection for the warrior. In this article, you will find explanations of some symbols which…

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11 Comments to “WAR PONIES”

  1. I am searching for an historically correct depiction of the Indian “war pony” with their paintings. So many paintings show charging, fearless horses going into battle with steam or fire coming out of their nostrils – and somehow – I don’t think that is what happened. I think, a beautiful horse was painted for battle, skitted, reared and went ahead anyway (fight or flight with the horse) and some came back with a bloody hand print on their shoulder. THAT would be the best way – to me – to honour the war pony. Thank you – Kim Lapetina kimberlyhollenczer@comcast.net If you have any information on the REAL war pony and their rider, please do share.

  2. Hi, Kim,

    Blue Feather Spirit’s essay was recommended to me as excellent by Kavika, an Ojibwe elder who is a friend. Per him, she did a fine job describing the symbols. The red hands were indeed painted on rather than smeared on by someone injured or killed in battle.

    I’m not sure how much you know about horses, but a frightened horse wouldn’t shy, rear and then do it anyway. A frightened horse would turn and run. But horses can be trained to set aside their fears. In fact, every trainer has to do that with every horse.

    If you’ve seen police horses used to control a mass of people, you’ve seen that training at work. Police horses are exposed to all sorts of things that might scare them during the training process. They learn how to handle the situation and cease being afraid.

    Horses used in movies undergo the same process. Those used in Oaters are the closest we can come to duplicating the performance of the war ponies of yesteryear. Horses used to engage in battle on the silver screen don’t rear and then do it anyway. They simply do the task assigned to them, which is usually racing toward the enemy, perhaps jumping an obstacle and/or falling when their warrior is shot. They may also be asked to stop quick, engage in hand to hand combat, or other maneuvers that make the scene more exciting.

    The same was true of the war horses belonging to the Indians. Indians were and are great horse trainers. They would have used training to overcome any fears the horse would have exhibited.

    BTW, rearing wouldn’t be the first choice of most frightened horses. They prefer to keep four feet on the ground, so they’re more likely to whirl and run. Rearing makes them more vulnerable and less balanced, both of which increase the danger to themselves. A rearing horse is more likely to fall than one with all four legs on the ground. I know the depiction of a frightened, rearing horse is very popular, but in real life, that scenario is not likely unless the enemy, like a mountain lion, is on their back or if they can’t escape from their enemy any other way, like when they are roped.

    As to historical representations, unfortunately, there weren’t cameras around to record those. However, there are two famed artists of that era who specialized in paintings depicting the Old West: Frederick Remington and Charles Russell. I don’t know if either of them produced paintings like you seek, but that’s where I’d start. They were both prolific and are praised for the accuracy of their representations.

  3. Loretta,

    I thank you for your comments. My intent was not to detail the behavior of a horse frightened, it was, indeed, to ask quite simply what the life of a “painted war pony” held. Quite simply, I’d like to paint it. That’s it.

    My interpretation of a frightened horse is quite possibly the most incorrect interpretation ever. This post was not about animal behavior – I admit I do not know anything about horses – what I am searching is correct, historical data.

    I believe those of us who are not of Native American blood (and that is only proved by DNA or the tribal of elders – it matters not that our grand fathers said “she was Cherokee” and in truth “she” was no where NEAR Cherokee territory and most Americans cannot even pronounce the tribes that were here before we eviscerated them) cannot provide an accurate description – it is yet another white man’s lie.

  4. Sorry if I misinterpreted your comment. My comment about where to find historical representations should help your quest for accurate historical portrayals. Cameras did exist in those days but could not record a battle. They were still cameras only. There is a site that has a good collection of photos of Indians from that era. I don’t know if they have any depicting a painted war pony. If they do, he would be standing still. The site is http://www.old-picture.com/

    I agree about Indian heritage. There are many who claimed it who were not American Indian. There were also many with American Indian heritage who tried to hide it because of prejudice against them. Unfortunately, that prejudice survives today with some racists. I look forward to the day when it dies out. The American Indian heritage and culture is to be admired. There is a lot we all could learn from them.

  5. I appreciate your candor and apologize if my comment came across as defensive. I agree, absolutely with your post, and am in appreciation of your historical knowledge, that clearly rings home – much more than my knowledge of the horse and the American Indian. I beg your pardon – and thank you for your input. I look forward to perhaps chatting again.

  6. I hope you find what you’re looking for. Perhaps you could post your results here in case others are looking for the same authenticity.

    Have you looked at contemporary American Indian artists? They too strive for the same authenticity, so they might be a good resource.

    I’m glad you stopped by and look forward to chatting again too.

    • Loretta,

      If I am fortunate enough to find the “ilk” that I seek, I will certainly share with you. I so appreciate your knowledge and input into the “War Ponies”. Please pardon my initial defense – as you can well see, I am but a fish out of water flaying about. I stand corrected and thank you.

  7. Kim, there’s nothing wrong with not having knowledge of something and seeking it out. In fact, you are to be commended for that. Too many people take a different path. I love it when I can help someone learn, just like I love it when someone helps me learn.

    So no apologies are needed here. I’m glad to help.

    • Loretta,

      It is not I who will paint the war pony (thank the gods), rather a well-known – globally known – painter friend of mine from the UK who only paints true, factual portraits of animals AND people (best known I believe for her dog portraits – absolutely on the mark). Is there someone or some agency I can speak to that will help me with the description of what an authentic war pony looked like? My friend is not selling the portrait. She simply finds the subject matter fascinating. 🙂

      Thank you!

      Kim

  8. I know of a woman who paints the most realistic, absolutely accurate portraits with such beauty and talent it takes my breath away. This artist will paint NOTHING without researching her subject first, but is having difficulty in painting what she thinks the true war pony may have looked like. Can you please, maybe give us some notion of what this painted pony might look like? On the internet, they have fire and smoke coming out of their noses and they look angry – I don’t believe that is what truly happened.

    Thank you,

    Respectfully yours,

    Kim Lapetina

    • Hi Kim,

      I’ve asked my friends. None of them know an American Indian artist who they could recommend. I suggest you visit American Indian forums and sites so you can ask there.

      Hope you find what you are looking for. Let us know.if you do.

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